Direct Messaging is exciting

One of the things I’m most fascinated by at the minute is the continued rise of app-based messaging services. This is for two reasons;

1 – Internet messaging services have always been heavily used (flashback to AOL and MSN messenger as a teenager anyone?). Their transition to the world of apps is therefore a good leading indicator of our comfort around mobile as our primary device,  potentially pre-empting a shift towards more mobile activities such as payments, in fact Line is already providing a platform to purchase, with great success.

2 – It’s a stark lesson to look at exactly how much of a lead Blackberry had and then lost in this race.

A few years ago I was paying my rent between internships with a call centre and I noticed that a lot of my colleagues would have two phones in front of them when making calls, their iPhone and their Blackberry. I made a point of asking different people on different shifts why they needed two phones and every time the answer was the same; “this one is just for bbm”.
This to me sums up the growth of WhatsApp far better than as a way of avoiding overseas fees. The first time I heard people talking about WhatsApp it was as “bbm for iPhone”. Finally my call-centre friends could be unshackled from their squat second phones without losing touch with those in their social circles who couldn’t or wouldn’t make the jump in to Appletopia.

Since then we’ve seen everything from HeyTell to the breaking-out of Facebook’s Messenger and recently three more-curious indicators of the breadth and growth of messaging; Snapchat, Stickers and One Direction.

Snapchat
When you ask people about Snapchat their answer is normally somewhere between $3bn and rude pics. However the vision on CEO Evan Speigel is something much more compelling; friendships are made by sharing and trusting people with your uncensored good and bad moments (rather than posting an edited version of yourself in  a status) and pictures are the best way to do it. It is a great understanding of how mobile instant messaging services can be used to advance communication and help establish real friendships rather than what could be considered hollow ones and it’s a sentiment he expanded on this in his recent AXS Partners keynote.

(As for the rude pictures, without wanting to sound crass; wasn’t a lot of Polaroid use initially by couples to take/share photos that they didn’t want the photo developers to see?)

Stickers
Stickers are concept that has grown with apps like Line and WeChat and is immediately arresting just because of how much money it is making. There has been some good writing on how stickers have exploded as a revenue source for Line, giving users a way to quickly express nuanced emotions that are otherwise difficult to convey through the written form. I’m sure this isn’t the whole picture but again we see how being able to convey emotions, rather than text messages, is compelling enough for people to pay for.

One Direction
I’d bet if we were playing a 7 degrees of separation ‘1D’ would fit almost every time, however here once again we find Blackberry or more specifically the Canadian messaging service Kik that grew out from it and after some initial legal issues has has already surpassed the former in registered users.

Kik is interesting as it has built itself up almost as a ‘communication platform’ where friends can play games, customise and send memes to each other and even have their own brand of Snapchat called ‘Photobombs’. A whole social interaction platform all tied together with messaging.

The interesting thing here is that Kik allows other developers to create their own apps (or ‘cards’) and recently announced a high-profile partnership with the One Directon[al] floppy-haired masters of the teen universe where fans could chat, share and unlock exclusive content from the band.

Kik has taken the peripheral activities that were always part of online messaging services (playing virtual chess over MSN or scrabble over Facebook) and brought them to the fore.

Given the diversity of products available and the average persona’s social sphere, mobile messaging is unlikely to be a winner-takes-all game but however it shakes out, the messaging wars of 2014 will be compelling to watch.